News / Africa

Somalia’s Insurgents Turn Ivory into Big Export Business

A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of ivory tusks discovered at the Port of Mombasa in July 9, 2013.
A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of ivory tusks discovered at the Port of Mombasa in July 9, 2013.
William Eagle
The African Union’s increased military presence in Somalia has recently succeeded in as many as a dozen communities once held by al-Shabab, the al-Qaida affiliate seeking to create an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa.  
 
Al-Shabab’s years-long Somalia insurgency has been funded by various enterprises, including massive exports of charcoal to the Middle East. But in 2010, Andrea Crosta of the non-profit Elephant Action League began hearing rumors of al-Shabab’s well-organized ivory purchase and export operation. Two years later, Crosta and an Israeli colleague, Nir Kaldron, hired a translator and began a year-long inquiry centered in Nairobi.
 
“We started these investigations mostly under cover,” says Crosta. “We met dozens and dozens of people, poachers, small traffickers, big traffickers, even ex-warlords, mostly connected to Somali society both in Kenya and Somalia. And slowly we built this very worrying puzzle. And we understood that al-Shabab rightfully started a great opportunity.”
 
Crosta and Kaldron slowly gained the confidence of many involved in an illicit trade that extends throughout the region. They secretly recorded conversations about al-Shabab’s trafficking operations. The investigations revealed the carefully defined business perspective of an organization that has waged war against western and democratic influences in the Horn of Africa.
 
Rebels discover a good business opportunity
 
“They understood, of course, that the price was rising and rising in Asia and the demand was, well, so there was a great business opportunity,” says Crosta. “And they started to act as buyers, basically.
 
Andrea Crosta describes al-Shabab's ivory commerce, and more
Andrea Crosta describes al-Shabab's ivory commerce, and morei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
 
“Unlike other armed groups and terrorist groups in Africa involved with poaching, al-Shabab does not really poach the elephant, kill the elephant. They act as buyers, as very good buyers.
 
“Slowly, we understood there were about one to three tons of ivory getting onto Somali through al-Shabab every month, so we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits every month.”
 
  • Somalia's Islamist jihadists emerged as merchants in the illegal trade of elephant ivory from the Horn of Africa, according to undercover investigators. Surrounded by well-armed bodyguards for a 2008 press conference, spokesman Sheik Muktar Robow Abu Mansur vowed increased attacks against a struggling goverment force and its foreign supporters.
     
  • A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of an elephant tusk at a display of more than 140 confiscated pieces of ivory outside the Port of Mombasa's police station on July 9, 2013. Shabab continues to smuggle large quantities of ivory by dhow to larger vessels anchored off Kenya's and Somalia's coasts.
  • Al-Shabaab fighters brandish surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry during an Octoer, 2010 miliary exercise in Mogadishu. In addition to illicit ivory sales, Shabab has been financing their war against the western-backed government with charcoal exports to the Gulf Arab states with sales that have been banned by the United Nations.
  • Kenya security stand guard over Tang Yong Jian, a Chinese national who pleaded guilty in the dock of the Makadara Law courts in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, January 28, 2014. Tang, 40, was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi trying to smuggle 3.4 kilograms of raw ivory to Giuangzhou, China. His punishment was $233,000 or seven years in prison.
  • Much of Shabab's ivory trades is centered in Kenya. In 2102 the World Wildlife Fund invited religious leaders of many faiths in Kenya to gathered at the site of a previous government burning of elephant tusks to pray for an end to the slaughter.
     

As the African Union military mission to drive the militants out of Somalia gains momentum, they shut down the insurgency’s access to major ports. But al-Shabab has demonstrated an ability to adapt. They buy ivory and rhino horns from Kenya and neighboring central African countries. They ship the tusks from variety of ports by skiff to Iranian, Korean and Chinese ships anchored in the Indian Ocean. Some skiffs even originate, Crosta says, in ports AU-controlled areas on the coast and even in Kenya.
 
“They just had to readjust themselves logistically because they still control a large part of the Somali countryside and the traffic is still going on. They just use different ports and exit points.”
 
Their trafficking chain many helping hands
 
“Do not forget,” Crosta says, “they also have a lot of power also in Kenya and it is connected to a lot of businessmen and traffickers who actually provide funds for al-Shabab. So, even ivory collected in Kenya and then leaving Kenya from the Mombasa port, for example, might be connected to al-Shabab.”
 
The league’s report was published in spring of 2013, but didn’t receive much attention until after the devastating al-Shabab attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi last year that took the lives of more than 60 civilians.
 
More recently, Crosta founded a whistle-glower organization to encourage improved intelligence-gathering on poaching in many countries. However, Crosta says he has also gained a wider perspective on problems created by poaching and efforts to contain it.
 
“Everybody is talking, of course, about elephants,” Crosta says. “You might talk about rangers dying sometimes, but actually the human toll is much, much wider. It is about rangers, it’s about thousands of poachers losing their lives every year, leaving behind very large families with orphans and widows. And now you also have armed gangs and terrorist groups and the human toll of the ivory trade.”
 
Too many victims to count
 
Crosta is concerned also about the larger economic and political tendencies that perpetuate poaching and the consequences for the communities that surround Africa’s poorly protected game reserves. The puzzle Crosta talks about now is more complex than identifying who is killing Africa’s elephants. While poachers may be viewed as predators, Crosta asks that the public look more closely at the Africans who kill these animals.
 
The Elephant Action League wants to call attention to the widespread human devastation.
 
“You have armed gangs of very dangerous person but you and you have poor local people,” he says. “One elephant with nice pair of tusks represents a few years of salary for someone who has no salary and maybe 10 people waiting at home for him.  So you can imagine the temptation.
 
“It is also about them. It is about widows, it’s about orphans, it’s about children who become child soldiers, about officers and judges getting bribed. It’s about the weapon that is bought to kill an elephant and is later used to rob a bank. It’s about a lot.”
 
Tanzania’s rangers stray from their target
 
In Tanzania, where poachers have killed large numbers of elephants, an all-out anti-poaching crackdown called Operation Terminate last year resulted in a sharp reduction in elephant kills: only two elephants died. But the wildlife success led to monumental political failures and the kind of lawlessness and human

But the moral cost was high as security units operating under a shoot-to-kill policy were accused of killings, torture and rape during the anti-poaching campaign. A parliamentary inquiry revealed the murder of 13 civilians, arrests of over 1,000 people and other abuses by members of the operation, which included soldiers, policemen, game rangers and forestry officers.
 
President Jakaya Kikwete sacked four top ministers and asked for foreign governments’ guidance on a better way to save the wildlife they depend on for much-needed tourism revenues.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs